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Friday, 14 July, 2000, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Motorways: Time to slow down?

Motorists are lucky to get out of second gear on some stretches of motorway, but is reducing the speed limit the solution to gridlock hell?

The UK Government is considering reducing the speed limit on some motorways to 50 miles per hour to deal with the congested traffic hotspots during the rush hour.

UK motoring organisation, the RAC, welcomed the idea of variable speed limits in problem areas like Birmingham, but warned that it should not become a backdoor way of lowering limits permanently on all motorways.

Is 50 miles per hour a snail's pace or a safer pace? Will it help clear the UK's congested motorways, or turn us into a nation of Sunday drivers? HAVE YOUR SAY

Perhaps better sign posting would help. Sometimes the leftmost lane of a motorway breaks away from the main road to form a new road, forcing people in that lane to fight their way back into a stream of traffic. If this wasn't done so often people would have one less reason to hang onto their position in the middle lane.
William Hinckton, UK

Build express lanes and lanes for local traffic. Houston has a great system with 4 lanes for express traffic and outside lanes for local traffic.
Simon, USA but English

Many people don't seem to understand how variable speed limits work

Paul S, UK
Many people don't seem to understand how variable speed limits work. By reducing speed, the distance between cars is reduced, thus allowing more cars onto the road. It works surprisingly well and is very effective at keeping traffic moving.
Paul S, UK

Variable speed limits have worked on the M25 and would undoubtedly help benefit the really congested areas of motorway throughout the UK. However, it would be stupid to have a lower speed limit outside of peak periods. In some parts of the motorways system, the Government should balance things out by increasing the speed limit to 80 mph.
Jonathan, London, England

I have a better idea for helping reduce congestion. Why not ban lorries and coaches from overtaking in peak periods, thus allowing the middle and outside lanes to flow better?
Al, UK

Remove people's need to travel and the problem of congestion will solve itself. There should be legislation against people who drive more that 50 miles to work on their own.
Rick, England

In my experience all the accidents I have seen on the motorway have been to do with people moving into the middle lane and fast lanes at unexpected moments like when they see a lorry in the slow lane about 2 miles up the road. It is more important to teach people lane discipline and how to indicate that they are changing lane than reduce the speed limit.
Stephen McCoull, England

I see that Nigel from UK has managed to bring the issue of 'female drivers' into this subject. I am not going to even respond to your logic regarding speed, but your comment about female drivers, is disgraceful and insulting. It also tells us, you are a bad driver.

Ban all traffic. Except me!
Onya Byke, UK

We need to be taught "how to drive safely" not just how to steer a car and turn corners!

Eileen B, England
I agree with a previous comment that our driving instruction and test and not hard enough. In Germany, for instance, it costs a lot of money and takes about 1 year to get a driving licence. They are not allowed onto normal roads for some months and are on special roads for learning. We need to be taught "how to drive safely" not just how to steer a car and turn corners! Also there should be a compulsory motorway test, perhaps in a simulator as pilots do. I also think that, as in Germany again, there should be no speed limit on Motorways so that drivers are doing different speeds and therefore there would be no traffic jams.
Eileen B, England

Reducing speed limits during peak traffic periods works. Those who have the misfortune to use the M25 see this everyday. The traffic is far more apt to continuously move, rather than stopping and starting, thus giving rise to considerable fuel savings. I know that my car's fuel economy rises by 25% when it is driven at 50mph when compared with 70mph.
Neil, UK

Reducing the speed limit does save petrol - having commuted 100 miles a day for over 10 years I have proved that to my own satisfaction. Haven't variable speed limits on the M25 already proved that this cuts congestion? What really makes me furious is having some nerd trying to force me into the slow lane when I'm already doing 80 so that he (and it's always a he) doesn't have to move into the fast lane. It seems that at least during the rush hour the effective speed limit is 90 rather than 70.
James, England

By decreasing the speed limit on motorways the taxation income to government could potentially be decreased

Abbi Higgins, England
In response to Alan, England slower speed do not equal higher fuel consumption! In fact 50mph would prove more efficient than higher speeds as the aerodynamic forces against you increase with the square of speed - therefore the faster you go the more fuel you use. Fuel consumption usually optimised at around the 50mph mark. Therefore, by decreasing the speed limit on motorways the taxation income to government could potentially be decreased - plus all the money it will cost them to implement these measures!
Abbi Higgins, England

Why bother with changing the speed limit? Surely it would be far better to educate drivers in using the motorways properly, rather than sitting in the middle lane and turning them into dual carriageways. The sooner people realise that you are in fact ALLOWED to use the inside lane for cars as well as lorries, we could all get from A to B much quicker.
James, UK

Excellent solution, Paul B. Let's just tarmac the whole country and be done with it! Or we could attempt to use a little intelligence and release ourselves from the comfort blanket of the motorcar.
Bob Mitchelson, UK

I'd like to see a reduced speed limit at rush hours only. This could reduce the number of accidents. Why not ban certain vehicles from using SOME roads at that time too - e.g. heavy, slow lorries? I don't agree with one previous comment about lower speed = more petrol though. 50mph is much closer to the "magic" 56mph than 90+mph!
Tony, UK

As at present there is no advantage from a speed point of view

Dave, UK
The speed limit should be based on the road, the conditions and the car. I would like to see variable speed limits based on the above e.g. a 1.1 litre small car driving on the motorway in good weather would have a maximum limit of 50. All limits would be reduced in poor weather by say 25%. This would also fit in with the increased ownership costs of performance cars. Where as at present there is no advantage from a speed point of view.
Dave, UK

Perhaps I'm missing something, but surely at 'rush hour' the typical speed on motorways is around 30mph, due to 'sheer weight of traffic'. I notice a couple of responses from 'luddites', well if you don't like driving a sensible speeds, I suggest public transport is a viable option.
John Harris, UK

Over here in Germany the 'autobahns' are unlimited speed limits in many areas. The problem's here relate primarily to too much construction, only having 2 lanes in many areas and some parts of the motorways with variable speed limits (yes, this is in fact causing traffic hold-ups where there previously were none).
Matt, Germany (but English)

Surely this is a disguised method to fine more people and increase statistics in the Government's favour?

Jay, UK
This would seem to coincide with a recent spate of driver fines. Surely this is a disguised method to fine more people and increase statistics in the Government's favour?
Jay, UK

The only way to reduce congestion is to raise taxes, thus pricing the poor off the roads and at the same time allowing more space for my lovely Jag.
Neil Pearce, UK

I don't think it will change things much. Let's face it, just about everyone breaks the speed limits anyway.
Julian, UK

Slower motorway speeds! I thought the sensible money was on increasing them in line with our more enlightened continental friends. It's 80 mph in France and unlimited in Germany. The way it's going in this country, it will soon be time to get my coat!
Richard Branch, UK

Perhaps we should take this argument to its logical conclusion. If we reduce the speed limit to zero mph, we will have a 100% reduction in traffic accidents. We will solve the road building problem in one fell swoop. We will not have a problem parking in our cities, since you can just use the empty motorways, if you can get there doing 0 mph that is.
Paul, UK

They say it works. How? If traffic is slowed down, it is forced to spend longer on the motorway. If traffic is crawling, how can a 50 mph limit help as no one can reach it? Sorry to be simplistic, but I can't see the maths or the logic.
Jenni, UK

Adding a couple of lanes on both sides would not cause a significant loss of green land

Paul B, UK
Look at our motorways from the air and you can clearly see that they are tiny, thin strips of tarmac surrounded by acres and acres of empty countryside. Adding a couple of lanes on both sides would not cause a significant loss of green land, and the impact of all that investment would be good for the economy. Variable speed limits are OK when used properly but they are no substitute for what we really need - wider motorways.
Paul B, UK

Slower speeds = more petrol used, therefore yet more money in petrol taxes to the government
Alan, England

It's not a bad idea, true, but the Government really should realise that the only way to reduce levels of congestion is to reduce the amount of cars on the road in the first place. Instead of investing in new signposts and speed cameras, why not try and encourage people to car share At this point I suppose I should say we should all travel by train, but the train service is crumbling and feeble and a bit of a money pit anyway. It can't handle the passengers it has at the moment!
Kate, UK

This government is obsessed with reducing speed limits, rather than tackling the real causes of accidents

Peter Fisher, England
This government is obsessed with reducing speed limits, rather than tackling the real causes of accidents. Reducing the limit to 50 mph will not have any effect on accident reduction or congestion, except people will be tempted to use different roads. There are too many absurdly low limits now, which I have no intention of observing, in line with the majority of other drivers.
Peter Fisher, England

How about 2 motorways - one for the nutters in 4x4s and BMWs etc to travel on at any speed they like and another for normal people who are capable of travelling at 50mph.
Rob, England

The problem that I see on both A roads and motorways has little to do with speed limits, but with lane discipline. A lot of people seem to believe that the outside lane is the "fast" lane, so that must be the one to travel in -leaving lanes 1 and 2 almost empty. If you pass the slower moving traffic on your right you leave yourself open to police attention for undertaking, maybe the government should enforce the highway code (keep left unless overtaking) or even go with the states and allow us to over take on the left.
Darrall, UK

Let's start teaching people to drive rather than teaching them to pass and increasingly irrelevant test

Gerry Anstey, England
Speed is a factor in the final outcome of accidents but virtually never the direct cause. Lowering the speed limit would simply cause more congestion and encourage more people to dawdle which is itself a creator of dangerous situations on the roads. Let's start teaching people to drive rather than teaching them to pass and increasingly irrelevant test. Some of the practises encouraged in the test are plain wrong.
We should be talking about raising the speed limits in suitable areas and introducing more minimum speed limits. How many times have you seen Mr 30mph crawling along a dual carriageway forcing all the trucks and coaches into the overtaking lane, now THAT's dangerous!
Gerry Anstey, England

It is completely misguided. The speed limit should be 'safe and prudent'. Around the M4 / M25 intersection in the rain this could be 40 mph. On the M45 in the dry it could be 150 mph in a good car with a competent driver. This works well in Montana, USA, I see no reason why it can't work in the UK. The danger of low speed limits (50 mph) is that the driver's concentration tends to lapse as they get bored and find themselves in an accident which then cripples the Motorway giving tailbacks for miles.
Gavin Pearson, USA

It's all a question of setting an appropriate limit to suit the conditions. The feeble driving test and lack of on-going training ensures that the average British driver is incapable of doing this by themselves, so I think variable limits are a good idea. They work very well on the M25. A permanent 50mph limit would be a disaster though, prolonging congestion when the volume of traffic subsides.
Phil Saum, UK

Once again, it's another world-beater from the Government

Martyn, England
Once again, it's another world-beater from the Government. Instead of investing in road infrastructure to ease congestion in trouble spots, they simply slow down the rate at which people reach them. Hopefully, the Government will also consider raising the speed limit in places where it is safe and replacing speed cameras with ones that detect the real cause of accidents - people driving too close.
Martyn, England

If the Government is going to lower the speed limit on motorways, they must consider the effect on the "A" roads that run along the same routes. With a higher average speed limit, drivers will use these roads thus pushing the level of traffic up and totally defeating the purpose of the motorway network.
Tom Wilcox, UK

Speed limits were introduced for one reason only - safety. Modern cars on a motorway are far safer than they were in the past. Increase the speed limit on motorways and put variable speed limits where they belong - outside schools, stations etc.
Roland, UK

Interesting idea, but won't it simply move the problem to another section of motorway? If traffic is travelling at 70mph and has to slow down for a 50mph section, then there will be a tailback leading up to the 50mph section (this is simple queuing theory).
Doug, The Netherlands

With a small helicopter costing the same to buy and run as a luxury saloon car (a BMW 7 series or a Merc S class for example), it amazes me that more people don't take to the skies!
Adam Pumene, UK

In March I was driving along the M8 (inside lane) and was pulled over by the police. The policeman got out of his Range Rover, walked up to my car and said "if you or your car are incapable of driving any faster you shouldn't be on the motorway". Of course I was driving at 45mph which would be slightly below the proposed 50mph limit. I wonder if he got the slow moving trucks to pull over as they were struggling up the hill (in the same lane) a few miles back?
It really wouldn't bother me if the speed limit on the motorway was raised or lowered. I would still sit at a comfortable speed for my little Nissan Micra.
Dr. S, UK

If it's meaningful and fairly enforced, I see no problem with this.

Phil W, UK
If it's meaningful and fairly enforced, I see no problem with this. However, there should also be a decision on whether undertaking on the slow lane is allowed (it is in many States of America). In the UK too many people hog the outside and middle lanes, leaving the slow lane empty which is stupid; drivers don't want to get blocked in. Allowing undertaking would permit more effective use of lanes.
Phil W, UK

Who are they trying to kid? When I am on the M25 at rush hour the speed "never" gets higher than 30 MPH anyway. No doubt some busybody will try to force us all onto state run buses soon. Next stop Leningrad.
Dan Peters, UK

The 55mph limit around Washington DC ring road still makes it look just like the M25 to me in terms of traffic density in the mornings. But it does move along unlike the M25 but well below the speed limit. There are 4 lanes plus a lane for cars with 2 or more passengers. It strikes me there is just more room for the traffic here than on the M25. The speed limit seems like a good cover up for just spending more on roads in the UK so the over taxed and constantly blamed drives can just get to work in the morning.
K. Jackson, USA Ex UK

Yes the RAC is correct. Experiments have shown that travelling at slower speeds can get you to your destination quicker when roads are congested. But speed enforcement cameras are needed. With the advent of digital cameras the issue of fixed penalties can be computerised which makes such operations much more feasible.
John, UK

I hate to admit it, but the variable speed limit on the M25 works quite well.

Jo Perrett, London, UK
I hate to admit it, but the variable speed limit on the M25 works quite well. Provided it was kept purely for rush hours, and was restricted to particularly busy areas - Junctions 4 - 1 of the M4, or around Birmingham etc. - I'd be in favour of this. Perhaps there is some semblance of common sense in Whitehall after all.
Jo Perrett, London, UK

No it will not help at all and is a rather backward idea. Congestion will only be reduced when far less cars are released on the highways. As that is not being resolved and good intentions to get car drivers out of their cars will fail without adequate public transport, the problem remains. How can anyone believe that going to 50mph will help the volume on the road? Any child with good GCSE results can calculate that.
Han de Min, UK

Variable speed limits work, however much we the driving public hate to admit it. However so do increased limits where the conditions allow. If the Government is happy to slow us down is the 'sticky' bits why can't we speed up in the empty bits? This is not to mention the financial burden the motorist bears, as Tony Blair said the NHS is dependent on cars and trucks. Considering the amount of duty that is not re-circulated to the transport system at present, I find it inconceivable that all or even any monies generated from tolls would go towards transport.
Nathan Gabbott, England

Another thing that works are speed cameras - by keeping people to the limit there is less bunching when they eventually have to slow down.

Keith Lomax, UK
Yes, variable speed limits should be introduced on all busy stretches. It has worked well between the M3 and M4 on the M25. Another thing that works are speed cameras - by keeping people to the limit there is less bunching when they eventually have to slow down. My daily commute on the M25 includes two stretches of only two lanes - an increase to three for these would also make a major reduction to the congestion.
Keith Lomax, UK

I generally travel at slower speeds anyway and suffer zero stress and get to my destination at the same time or only slightly later than those who race to the next junction/roundabout/traffic jam. Lower speeds would reduce congestion, stress, pollution, road wear and the gross fuel consumption of this country. I would also ban the manufacture of high performance cars.
Mike, England

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